By Elizabeth Wong, Associate Director

For no apparent reason, Virginia is about to have a law requiring voters to show an ID at the polls or be forced to cast a provisional ballot.  And it is considering legislation requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote, which is even worse.
The only rationale for such laws is to combat voter impersonation fraud in the state, but since there is no such fraud in Virginia, the only conceivable purpose of these bills is to disenfranchise voters who are least likely to possess IDs.
According to several studies, that disproportionately applies to elderly, low-income persons, and minorities.
The voter ID/ provisional ballot law is unfortunately a done deal. The House passed its bill, HB 9, on February 1 on a vote of 69-30.  On Monday, the Senate-- with Lt. Governor Bill Bolling casting the tie-breaking vote --passed SB 1 on a vote of 21-20.
An eyeball breakdown of the vote on HB9/SB1 shows this:  Legislators who are likely to benefit if fewer minorities, elderly individuals, and low-income persons go to the polls favored the bill.  Those who would gain from the participation of these voters opposed the bill.
Don’t be fooled by the argument that HB 9/SB1 is benign because ballots will still be counted once the voter is able to prove who they are.  That’s not as easy as it sounds and could involve appearing before the local board of elections on the day after Election Day –which is also after the results have been announced.  Besides, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, in 2010 nearly 60 percent of provisional ballots cast were not counted.
Aside from the inevitability of HB9/SB1—all it needs now is the governor’s signature-- there is another far more dangerous bill, HB 569, still alive in the House that would require individuals to show proof of citizenship to register to vote and a government-issued photo ID at the polls.
This bill is about as bad as it gets and could have significant repercussions.
HB 569’s requirement that proof of citizenship be demonstrated with the same documentation required to prove legal presence to obtain a driver’s license would affect a large number of voters.  Nationally, 7% of U.S. citizens don’t readily have available a birth certificate, passport or naturalization certificate.  If this proportion is true in Virginia as well, nearly 400,000 Virginians would be forced to track down and pay for replacement documents.
That, courts have ruled, is tantamount to a poll tax, and is unconstitutional.
In addition, it is estimated that about 1.1 million voters in Virginia could be disenfranchised by HB 569’s photo ID provision since as many as 11% of American citizens don’t have a government-issued photo ID and another 10% don’t have ID with both their current address and current legal name.
If national figures can be applied to Virginia, such a requirement would negatively impact 167,000 seniors, 260,000 African-American Virginians, and over 125,000 18-24 year olds.
In a disingenuous attempt to minimize the impact of this onerous law on low-income citizens, HB 569 creates a free ID card that is available to anyone who signs an affidavit affirming their indigence. However, no ID card is truly free since it is still costly for many to collect the documents necessary to obtain the ID.
If Virginia truly provided free IDs for any and all state citizens who need it in order to vote, it would cost the state millions of dollars.  Missouri, which passed a similar law, estimated its costs at $6 million for the first year and $4 million each subsequent year.  Indiana spent $12.2 million over four years implementing its voter ID law.  Virginia has many more voters than either of those states and would therefore have even higher costs.
The costs go beyond just paying for free IDs.  Such a major change to voter laws requires a massive public education effort that would include public service announcements, printed materials, television, radio and newspaper advertisements and extensive training for poll workers and other election officials.
HB 569, like HB9/SB 1, takes the game of politics to a new low.  Based on bogus concerns about voter impersonation fraud, elected officials are purposely suppressing the vote of voters they don’t like at a high cost to tax payers.
Is it any wonder why elected officials are receiving such low ratings from voters?
Take action against HB 569: HB 569 comes before a House Appropriations subcommittee this afternoon.  Contact members of the House Appropriations Committee and urge delegates to oppose HB 569 (sample letter provided)!
For a fuller explanation on the fiscal impact of HB 569, see our memo to members of the House Appropriations subcommittee:
Note: The statistics provided in this blog came from a recently released report by Demos, “Voter ID in Virginia: An Expensive Mistake.”